Month: March 2014

Etiquette for the dead

When one considers that the among other more recognisable epithets, the French once referred to Scotland as ” The Land of Phantoms”, we should, perhaps, not be so taken aback by a tale such as follows. In his introduction to the ferocious ballad Young Benjie, our friend Sir Walter notes the following:

In former times, a man and his wife lived in a solitary cottage, on one of the extensive border fells. One day, the husband died suddenly; and his wife, who was equally afraid of staying alone by the corpse, or leaving the dead body by itself, repeatedly went to the door, and looked anxiously over the lonely moor, for the sight of some person approaching. In her confusion and alarm, she accidentally left the door ajar, when the corpse suddenly started up, and sat in the bed, frowning and grinning at her frightfully. She sat alone, crying bitterly, unable to avoid the fascination of the dead man’s eye, and too much terrified to break the sullen silence, till a Catholic priest, passing over the wild, entered the cottage. He first set the door quite open, then put his little finger in his mouth, and said the paternoster backwards, when the horrid look of the corpse relaxed, it fell back on the bed, and behaved itself as a dead man ought to do.

It is refreshing to note that the dead should abide by certain standards of etiquette, among which list, not terrifying one’s wife should be the primary concern. Behaving oneself properly, at least according to the renowned Sir Walter, continues beyond one’s last breath.

We should add that readers of a gentle disposition should not seek out Young Benjie without having a stalwart companion by their side: what that steadfast supporter may be is left to their own discretion. This ballad, despite its charming title, is notable for the following: murder, a reanimated corpse, and a brutal revenge.